Last Updated on 23rd February 2023
Demystifying the Hijrah in light of the Quranic verses 8:73 and 4:90
Iftikhar Ahmed, Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre
What are the meanings of the Quranic verses 8:73 and 4:90 in the historical context of the migration of Muslims from Mecca to Medina, and how do they relate to the alleged intimidation or warning made by the Holy Prophetsa towards those Muslims who did not want to migrate as well as to his order to kill those fellow Muslims who attempted to return to Mecca?
The first verse mentioned in the question reads as follows:
اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَہَاجَرُوۡا وَجٰہَدُوۡا بِاَمۡوَالِہِمۡ وَاَنۡفُسِہِمۡ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ وَالَّذِیۡنَ اٰوَوۡا وَّنَصَرُوۡۤا اُولٰٓئِکَ بَعۡضُہُمۡ اَوۡلِیَآءُ بَعۡضٍ ؕ وَالَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَلَمۡ یُہَاجِرُوۡا مَا لَکُمۡ مِّنۡ وَّلَایَتِہِمۡ مِّنۡ شَیۡءٍ حَتّٰی یُہَاجِرُوۡا ۚ وَاِنِ اسۡتَنۡصَرُوۡکُمۡ فِی الدِّیۡنِ فَعَلَیۡکُمُ النَّصۡرُ اِلَّا عَلٰی قَوۡمٍۭ بَیۡنَکُمۡ وَبَیۡنَہُمۡ مِّیۡثَاقٌ ؕ وَاللّٰہُ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ بَصِیۡرٌ
“Surely, those who believed and left their homes and strove with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah, and those who gave (them) shelter and help—these are friends one of another. But as for those who believed but did not leave their homes, you are not at all responsible for their protection until they leave their homes. But if they seek your help in (the matter of) religion, then it is your duty to help them, except against a people between whom and yourselves there is a treaty. And Allah sees what you do.” (Surah al-Anfal, Ch. 8: V. 73)
In order to be able to present an accurate answer, it would first of all be important to determine as precisely as possible when this verse was revealed. Both among Muslim scholars (cf. e.g. at-Tabari and Ibn Kathir) and among non-Muslim academics (cf. e.g, Nöldeke and Schwally) there is virtually a unanimous view that Surah al-Anfal was entirely revealed in Medina (with the exceptional view, e.g., by al-Qurtubi, that verses 31-37 were Meccan). There are a number of unambiguous indicators for the fact that it is a Medinan Surah, e.g., the title, “The Spoils of War” (al-Anfal), is a clear indication that it is about the time when the Muslims were involved in wars, which only happened in Medina.
Since it is now clear that verse 73, which is the first verse of the final section of this Surah, was sent down in Medina, it is impossible that the Messengersa of Allah would have wanted to intimidate or warn those Muslims who did not want to emigrate by means of this verse already in Mecca.
In fact, what verse 73 discusses is the importance of distinguishing true believers from ordinary believers by their actions. It ranks believers according to their commitment to their faith. Those who have migrated and undertaken jihad are considered allies or friends (awliya’) of each other, while those who have not undertaken personal sacrifice are not owed the duty of alliance or protection. The term awliya’ is significant in the Quran and indicates a tie of allegiance that exists in tension with ties of blood kin.
The relationship of the awliya’ is very close to a kinship relationship. The term “protection” (walayah) refers to a relationship of friendship, help, or political alliance. After the migration (hijrah), the Messenger of Allahsa joined one of the Helpers (ansar) of Medina to each of the emigrants (muhajirun) from Mecca in a symbolic brotherhood that entailed a relationship and established filiations between them.
The walayah in this verse is also a reference to a relationship of rule or political responsibility. Until the believers who still resided in Mecca migrated to Medina, the believers in Medina would have no political authority over them or claim to them. Despite the multiplicity of meanings of the term walayah, what is clear is that non-emigrating believers were not owed protection in an official or legal sense but were nevertheless brothers in religion and owed help as a moral and spiritual obligation.
In conclusion, verse 8:73 of the Quran emphasises the importance of commitment and sacrifice in the faith. The term awliya’ signifies a tie of allegiance that is distinct from ties of blood kin. While the meanings of walayah in the verse are vast, it is clear that the verse emphasises the moral and spiritual obligation that believers have towards one another, especially in times of need.
Let us now turn to verse 4:90:
وَدُّوۡا لَوۡ تَکۡفُرُوۡنَ کَمَا کَفَرُوۡا فَتَکُوۡنُوۡنَ سَوَآءً فَلَا تَتَّخِذُوۡا مِنۡہُمۡ اَوۡلِیَآءَ حَتّٰی یُہَاجِرُوۡا فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ ؕ فَاِنۡ تَوَلَّوۡا فَخُذُوۡہُمۡ وَاقۡتُلُوۡہُمۡ حَیۡثُ وَجَدۡتُّمُوۡہُمۡ ۪ وَلَا تَتَّخِذُوۡا مِنۡہُمۡ وَلِیًّا وَّلَا نَصِیۡرًا
“They wish that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you may become alike. Take not, therefore, friends from among them, until they emigrate in the way of Allah. And if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them; and take no friend nor helper from among them.” (Surah an-Nisa, Ch. 4: V. 90)
The allegation that the Holy Prophetsa commanded Muslims to kill other Muslims who attempted to return to Mecca through verse 4:90 of the Quran is a misinterpretation of the verse and a misrepresentation of Islamic teachings. It is essential to examine the verse in its historical context and to study related verses to understand the meaning of this verse.
In the early years of the Islamic community in Medina, incidents occurred where groups of professing believers either refused to settle or stay in Medina or to fulfil their obligations as Muslim residents of Medina. One account reports that a group of Muslims left for the Battle of Uhud but decided to return to Medina. The Holy Prophet’ssa Companionsra split into two groups, one wanting to kill the deserters and the other wanting to leave them alone. Then the verses 4:90, 4:91 and 4:92 were revealed, indicating that Allah Himself had overthrown them because of their own transgressions, so that they reverted to the status of disbelievers, whose lives and property were no longer protected.
Verse 4:90 refers specifically to the hypocrites who had left Medina altogether or were outside Medina. They had claimed to be Muslims, but their hypocrisy and disbelief were exposed, and the Muslims were warned not to take them as allies (awliya’) until they emigrated in the way of Allah, that is, until they settled in Medina. But if they turn their backs – that is, if they turn against the believers, as they did by finally settling with the disbelievers – they should be considered enemies, and the Muslims were instructed to seize and kill them wherever they found them. This verse refers to a particular group of hypocrites who actively sought to harm the Muslim community.
It is important to note that verse 4:90 is not a general command to kill anyone, let alone Muslims who simply wanted to return to Mecca. The verse refers specifically to those who are actively fighting against the Muslim community. The punishment for treason, even in modern secular legal systems such as the United States, is death. The Quran permits the death penalty in cases of treason, and even then, only if the treacherous person has first attacked Muslims. The verse is not a general permission to kill any Muslim who just wanted to return to Mecca.
Furthermore, verse 4:91 clarifies the issue and explains that the command to fight and kill is directed towards hostile and treacherous Muslims, i.e., hypocrites, specifically in wartime. The verse is only applicable if the enemies of Islam have initiated open hostilities, at which time they are to be engaged in combat and killed. These verses indicate that it is not permissible to fight against Muslims who refrain from fighting, even if they have gone over to the enemy.
The Quran is a complex text that must be interpreted in its historical context and in light of other verses. Verses that seem to give the impression of a perpetual war between the world of Islam and the world of disbelief are decidedly topical and circumstantial in their import and cannot be taken as permanent injunctions of God.
In conclusion, the allegation that verse 4:90 commands Muslims to kill other Muslims who attempt to return to Mecca is a misinterpretation of the verse and a misrepresentation of Islamic teachings. The verse refers specifically to hypocrites who were being treacherous and aiding the enemy, and it pertains to those who are actively fighting against the Muslim community. It is crucial to examine the context of the verse and related verses to fully understand its meaning.